Summary: Access to Land and Global Development
Wendy Wolford, Polson Professor of Development Sociology
The past several years have witnessed a strange confluence of events. On the one hand, recent
spikes in world prices for food and fuel commodities have led to a global rise in large-scale land
deals (popularly referred to as land grabs). Primarily occurring in Latin America, Africa and
Asia, these land deals are initiated by private and public actors hoping to secure off shore
production sites for agricultural goods and alternative energy crops. Although the extent of the
land deals are not known (see the recently released report by the World Bank, Rising Global
Interest in Farmland), the potential transfer of land from poor or asset-insecure households in
ecologically sensitive areas to corporate farmers or brokers has generated widespread protest.
Land deals have implications for global poverty, migration, the environment and Development.
At the same time, and counter to the trend in land deals, the issue of agrarian reform -- or the
progressive distribution of land ownership -- has become an increasingly visible and important
political issue in countries around the world. New grassroots movements in countries from Brazil
to the Philippines have organized unemployed rural workers and landless farmers to occupy
unproductive properties and pressure the government for their expropriation. Activists have
come together with academics and politicians to argue that extreme inequality in land ownership
is constitutive of broader social and economic problems, such as uneven development, poverty,
malnutrition, and violence.
It is thus extremely important at this moment to understand the nature of these two seemingly